The misuse of the Scriptures, twisting verses into contrived apologetical schemes for purposes of refutation or to shore up dubious opinions is increasingly common. Catholics are reminded to be careful in their study of the bible, acknowledging that there is an authentic interpreter (the Church) and that we have a living tradition that includes the writings and homilies of the ancient fathers and the saints. Catholics tend to interpret passages in a contextual manner that does no injustice to the Word of God. Certain fundamentalists will pick-and-choose verses with little consideration about what they are actually addressing or the inherent language and cultural peculiarities attached to them. The Internet itself is full of sites where individuals parrot the anti-Catholic arguments of those in the last century who saw the immigrants from Catholic lands to be the sub-human mongrels castoff by a Europe that was glad to be rid of them. It is ironic that the new “know-nothings” sometimes include the descendants of these poor Catholic refugees, adopting the prejudiced arguments used against their forebears. The fallen-away Catholic betrays all for which they sacrificed and forfeits the fullness of truth as proclaimed by the true Church of Christ. It is unfortunate, but true, that the bible can be erroneously used to prove all sorts of nonsense. Opponents of Catholicism reject the Pope and yet in the same breath give themselves his authority and infallibility over religious truth. More so than the Pope would ever claim, they make themselves the absolute masters of religious truth, contradicting themselves and the past. By contrast, the Pope is the servant of the Word, not its master. Their conceit drives them into the role of the only tolerated interpreter of the Scriptures. Such a position is flawed because it is a lie. Depending upon their agenda, the meanings of verses might even vacillate.
Bible study, particularly if it is badly organized, can become a similar sharing in ignorance. If the leader of the group is strong and the other members consist of largely dependent personalities, he will have no trouble dictating to them what passages mean. “I think this passage means this, thus it only means this.” If they are somewhat stronger of character, then there is a tendency to make bible interpretation rather relativistic. “I think that passage means this, you think it admits that, and someone else the other thing.” Of course, if the traditional Catholic interpretation is given then that must be wrong, after all, they will say, Catholics are always wrong and are not true Christians. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist has ruptured himself from the Church and from her living witness during the centuries. Old heresies and false paths are blindly taken again. All our ancestors in faith are reduced to fools who have nothing to contribute to the searcher of truth today. What a terribly impoverished view of faith and of the Scriptures!
Many of the modern Christian denominations and cults claim the bible as their own and yet disagree about what it teaches. One television evangelist claims every Christmas that Jesus was not God. He does so while quoting verse after verse from the bible and swinging the book around like a sword. Others stress the divinity of Christ to the point of negating his humanity. Unitarians would fall into this category and indeed, they reject the whole concept of a Trinity. Mormons prize the bible along with purely human works, and yet they reject strict monotheism and argue for the pre-existence of souls. Some claim priests while others insist that no one participates in the priesthood of Christ. Certain sects will deny the need for baptism entirely while others will argue from Scripture for an improper form. Others will say that it is required, but only for adults. They might even reduce baptism to a hollow rite of initiation with no mention of its orthodox elements: the infusion of sanctifying grace; rebirth as a new creation in the image and likeness of Christ; and becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the family of God and the Mystical Body of Christ. Some only accept baptism that is done by full immersion. Some sprinkle with little regard as to whether water touched each candidate. One minister was in the news recently for only putting his wet thumb upon the foreheads of his people and calling it baptism. Some believe in a literal rapture (although such a Protestant teaching was unheard of until recent times). Some believe that there will be a thousand-year reign and a second trial for all. Certain Calvinists use their bibles to prove that most people are predestined for hell, no matter what they do. Others use the bible to show that there is no hell and that everyone will be saved. This final view is even making headway into the camp of poorly catechized Catholics. Is Jesus really going to invite into his kingdom all the unrepentant murderers and abortionists, adulterers and fornicators, thieves and oppressors of the poor? I would not bank on it. Nevertheless, all these views and practices emerge from churches that claim the bible as their own.
The Gospel of Matthew, according to Irenaeus, was written while Peter and Paul preached in Rome (61 to 67 AD). Other authorities place it after the Gospel of Mark, around 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed. The other gospels, Acts, Revelation, and the assorted letters were complete by 100 AD. Many other books were considered by some to be inspired. Persecution and distance kept the Church from effectively gathering the books and judging their canonical status. The peace of Constantine (313 AD) gave the Church the opportunity to begin doing this. Scrupulous study, prayer, and dialogue (all guided by the Holy Spirit) led the bishops to affirm a canon of approved biblical books by 397 AD. The New Testament, as we know it, had come into existence. Christ gave something of his authority to the Catholic Church so that people might truly understand the Word of God and not succumb to the empty prattle of men. The living tradition of the Church with all its past testimony of the fathers and the saints, its early art and catacomb inscriptions, its various regulations, etc. would create an umbrella of understanding around the Scriptures. Forsaking the Church, Protestant reformers and their churches would cast aside centuries of authentic Christian life and teaching to find their own way. What they forgot was that Jesus was the Way and the Truth and the Life. Jesus was still very much with his Catholic Church. Some have lost their way entirely and can no longer be called Christian. Others still look to Jesus with love but only possess partial truth and much that is erroneous. Some of these find their way back home, as with notable converts to Catholicism in recent years.